Paul Andersen: The awful plight of a grunt laborer | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: The awful plight of a grunt laborer

I knew I was in trouble when calluses appeared on the palms of my hands. These are the hands of a writer ? soft, delicate and prone to bruising. Now they’ve become hardened, rough and so gnarled they snag on my wife’s satin nightgown.”Your hands are like sandpaper,” she complained last week as I gave her an affectionate caress. “Couldn’t you use some hand cream?”So, this is what I get for slaving over the beautification of our home? What began as a mere 200-square-foot dining room addition has evolved into a project equal to the Great Temple of Karnak. During conceptual planning, my wife and I naively determined that a multihipped roof would be “cute.”The architect did what he was told and produced a “simple set of drawings” that neither my wife nor I could envision in three dimensions. It was only after we began building “St. Paul’s Cathedral” that the full impact of the vision hit us like a 10-pound sledge square on the thumb.Over time, the physical manifestation of these drawings grew into an M.C. Escher puzzle of such complex proportions and nefarious angles that my T square warped and my digital miter protractor had a meltdown. Fortunately, we hired a pro builder who handles his worm drive like a scalpel, rarely makes a mistake and almost never swears. He has worked with us before and I’ve seen this man perform miracles with wood that could make Gippetto envious.By working weekends, we estimated the addition would be finished … well, about a month ago. Of course it’s not. By the time our vague deadline had passed, the roof was still a vague conceptual notion and there was a pile of lumber in the yard that somehow needed to get up in the air.My role in this structural nightmare has been “grunt laborer,” a title I accepted without fully appreciating how much grunt labor there is in a 200-square-foot memorial to the cultivated experience of family dining.At first, I was entrusted only with schlepping lumber in the family van. I loaded up two-by-12s and sheets of five-eighths CDX plywood until the springs bottomed out. Then I watched with awe as the builder plied his worm drive and radial arm saw, sharp and dangerous machines capable of eviscerating a mastodon.Throughout the project, I was allowed to assist by pounding in an occasional nail, which I did at the cost of two blackened fingernails and a fractured toe (don’t ask). I knew I was getting the hang of it when the builder no longer turned away with a grimace each time I raised my framing mall.Slivers? I’ve become adept at extracting shards of kiln-dried Douglas fir the length of a chop stick that got jammed into my hand the way a skewer slides into a hot dog at a weenie roast. Blisters? The welts on my hands soon matched the skin-popping texture of that same weenie when thrust into the hottest coals of a fire.Miracles of miracles! The roof was finally framed in and the builder still spoke to us in polite tones. When the building inspector studied the work-in-progress he was gape-mouthed at the array of rafters and said he needed to refer to a chart somewhere. We haven’t seen him since.Then came the big day when I was finally entrusted with my own job ? applying the Ice & Water Shield to the new roof. This is the stuff popularly referred to as “bituthane” ? pronounced “bitch-a-thane” ? the stickiest, most God-awful roof covering that was ever made from a petroleum byproduct.Bitch-a-thane comes in a heavy role, and when the paper is peeled off the back it acts like a giant strip of flypaper. If you can stick this surface to the plywood roof, fine, but when it adheres to your hair or your face, then you feel true sympathy for the common bluebottle fly. Try working bitch-a-thane when the wind is blowing and you will develop a vocabulary unfit for even the lowest degenerate on earth, the obvious candidate being the individual who invented this stuff ? Mr. Arnold B. Bituthane.Now that the roof is weathered-in, there are only a few minor details left: electrical, plumbing, insulation, concrete, tile, Sheetrock, painting, landscaping. Then comes the second mortgage to pay for it all and to cover bills for my physical therapy. Better factor in a case of heavy-duty hand cream so I can touch my wife without rasping off several layers of her delicate flesh.[Paul Andersen hopes the new dining room won’t collapse during his first dinner of humble pie. His column appears on Mondays.]I knew I was in trouble when calluses appeared on the palms of my hands. These are the hands of a writer ? soft, delicate and prone to bruising. Now they’ve become hardened, rough and so gnarled they snag on my wife’s satin nightgown.”Your hands are like sandpaper,” she complained last week as I gave her an affectionate caress. “Couldn’t you use some hand cream?”So, this is what I get for slaving over the beautification of our home? What began as a mere 200-square-foot dining room addition has evolved into a project equal to the Great Temple of Karnak. During conceptual planning, my wife and I naively determined that a multihipped roof would be “cute.”The architect did what he was told and produced a “simple set of drawings” that neither my wife nor I could envision in three dimensions. It was only after we began building “St. Paul’s Cathedral” that the full impact of the vision hit us like a 10-pound sledge square on the thumb.Over time, the physical manifestation of these drawings grew into an M.C. Escher puzzle of such complex proportions and nefarious angles that my T square warped and my digital miter protractor had a meltdown. Fortunately, we hired a pro builder who handles his worm drive like a scalpel, rarely makes a mistake and almost never swears. He has worked with us before and I’ve seen this man perform miracles with wood that could make Gippetto envious.By working weekends, we estimated the addition would be finished … well, about a month ago. Of course it’s not. By the time our vague deadline had passed, the roof was still a vague conceptual notion and there was a pile of lumber in the yard that somehow needed to get up in the air.My role in this structural nightmare has been “grunt laborer,” a title I accepted without fully appreciating how much grunt labor there is in a 200-square-foot memorial to the cultivated experience of family dining.At first, I was entrusted only with schlepping lumber in the family van. I loaded up two-by-12s and sheets of five-eighths CDX plywood until the springs bottomed out. Then I watched with awe as the builder plied his worm drive and radial arm saw, sharp and dangerous machines capable of eviscerating a mastodon.Throughout the project, I was allowed to assist by pounding in an occasional nail, which I did at the cost of two blackened fingernails and a fractured toe (don’t ask). I knew I was getting the hang of it when the builder no longer turned away with a grimace each time I raised my framing mall.Slivers? I’ve become adept at extracting shards of kiln-dried Douglas fir the length of a chop stick that got jammed into my hand the way a skewer slides into a hot dog at a weenie roast. Blisters? The welts on my hands soon matched the skin-popping texture of that same weenie when thrust into the hottest coals of a fire.Miracles of miracles! The roof was finally framed in and the builder still spoke to us in polite tones. When the building inspector studied the work-in-progress he was gape-mouthed at the array of rafters and said he needed to refer to a chart somewhere. We haven’t seen him since.Then came the big day when I was finally entrusted with my own job ? applying the Ice & Water Shield to the new roof. This is the stuff popularly referred to as “bituthane” ? pronounced “bitch-a-thane” ? the stickiest, most God-awful roof covering that was ever made from a petroleum byproduct.Bitch-a-thane comes in a heavy role, and when the paper is peeled off the back it acts like a giant strip of flypaper. If you can stick this surface to the plywood roof, fine, but when it adheres to your hair or your face, then you feel true sympathy for the common bluebottle fly. Try working bitch-a-thane when the wind is blowing and you will develop a vocabulary unfit for even the lowest degenerate on earth, the obvious candidate being the individual who invented this stuff ? Mr. Arnold B. Bituthane.Now that the roof is weathered-in, there are only a few minor details left: electrical, plumbing, insulation, concrete, tile, Sheetrock, painting, landscaping. Then comes the second mortgage to pay for it all and to cover bills for my physical therapy. Better factor in a case of heavy-duty hand cream so I can touch my wife without rasping off several layers of her delicate flesh.[Paul Andersen hopes the new dining room won’t collapse during his first dinner of humble pie. His column appears on Mondays.]

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